Cling to the Vine! Just cling, cells interlocked, bark intact, and let the sap flow: slowly but surely through winter chill, tingling gently, keeping you alive; vibrantly pouring when summer sun saturates the world with heat; a constant feeding in the sleep of night. Rest, but cling.
“Cling!” Jesus said. “Don’t let go! If you do, it’s over!” He could not have been clearer about how essential it is to cling to him.
“Remain in me. as I also remain in you!” (John 15:4)
If we do that, we are like the fruitful branch on the vine that stays vibrant and will soon have grapes hanging from it. The life-giving sap flows from the trunk, the center of everything and source of nutrition, into the branches. If the branch falls off, whipped by the wind or struck by an animal, it withers and dies. Jesus underlined the importance of staying deeply attached to him – clinging to him – or letting go and just shriveling up.
Attachment theory has become one of the core tenets of psychology. Look it up and you can find pages of intriguing information. One of the foundational elements is what happens during the first two years of a child’s life. If that baby comes to know their mother or other primary caregiver as a safe place, with secure bonding to them from the time of birth, they are able to develop healthy emotional and psychological health. They learn to trust the caregiver who responds to their needs and provides loving touch, like cuddling or carrying the baby close to them. I was very close to my dear mother, but I was also deeply attached to my grandmother. She lived with us and took care of me while Mom taught nursing and Dad finished his medical training. When I was two years old our family left the U.S. for Africa, only returning every four years. But each time we were back, I loved being reunited with Grandma Slater. The attachment that I’d formed as a baby held firm, showing up in a very special relationship.
During the two years right after Glenn and I graduated from university, already married, we were living in Pontiac just a few miles from Grandma. She could not drive, so once a week I spent a day with her to take her shopping and then to use her washing machine. Those hours together further cemented our bonding. When I would arrive she was usually sitting at her table with a cup of hot water, reading her Bible and writing notes in a notebook. Those were challenging years of finishing training, paying off debts and dealing with the loss of our first baby in the womb. Her love for the Lord, and for me, was solid support that I needed.
Back to the imagery of the vine and the branches: Jesus made it very clear that the vital energy of the sap that would keep a branch strong and fruitful was, translated to human terms, love.
4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. , , , As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.. (Jn. 15:4, 9-10 NIV)
The Father’s love was Jesus’ constant sustenance, and he tells us – his beloved disciples — to participate in that current of love too. To have it we need to “remain” in him: stay securely attached to him, so that his essential love flows into us. Then we can be “fruitful,” living out that sustaining love by loving others. That, he says, is his command, the fruit that he demonstrates that we belong to him!
12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (Jn. 15:12-13 NIV)
What kind of love does he have for us? He says it is completely self-giving. The most comprehensive word for it is the Hebrew hesed. Compare the English translations and you will see how translators need two words or a compound to come close to its meaning: unfailing love, loyal love, faithful love, steadfast love, lovingkindness.
If we are drinking in that love daily, staying firmly attached to our Lord like a clinging branch, we will become healthy friends of his (cf. John 15:14), actively loving each other and those in our community. Dehydration, what happens when the attachment is broken, is deadly, he says.
It is essential that we maintain that close connection! Those of us who have access to his Word in our own language need to keep delving into it to know him better and better and understand his commands. Prayer then grows into two-way conversation. One good thing I learned at boarding school, from age 10 to 15, was to set aside time each morning to read the Word. A bell would ring before breakfast, and all had to become quiet for 20 minutes. Not everyone really grabbed their Bible. But as I grew in my faith, that time became a precious pre-breakfast feast that I needed, and the habit stuck. The year that I was in eighth grade my dorm parents, Don and Glenna Bigelow, allowed us older kids in the dorm to rise with the sun on Saturdays, before the get-up bell would ring. We could go outdoors and spend time with the Lord there. I loved that freedom of walking in the wet grass with the birds, and learning to listen to the Lord as I poured out my concerns to him. It was truly formational.
This bonding to the Lord starts with a one-time action of choosing to follow him but must become a lifelong love-based attachment. May his love be our safe place and strengthening nourishment, overflowing to those around us!